Tom Watson calls on Government to suspend moves that could push Aston Villa into the abyss
Tom Watson has called on the Government to block moves that could see ailing football giant Aston Villa go under.
Labour's deputy leader says he is deeply concerned over the club's worsening cash crisis, after it emerged they were running a monthly deficit of more than £5 million and could face a winding up order over an unpaid tax bill.
He has asked Culture Secretary Matt Hancock to use his influence to ensure HMRC suspends any winding up proceedings, and also defers any outstanding tax payments so the club can 'resolve its cash flow difficulties'.
The West Bromwich East MP, who is also the shadow culture secretary, said Villa's troubles highlighted the 'severe shortcomings' of club governance. He has called for a review of the 'fit and proper person' ownership test.
"It is inconceivable that a club of this size and history, with such economic and cultural importance to the local area, can simply be allowed to go out of business and disappear," he wrote in a letter to Mr Hancock.
"It would be a national disgrace were that to occur and I am sure you do not want to be the Secretary of State to oversee that happen.
"What practical steps are you and your department taking to ensure that the club is kept afloat?
"Can your department ensure HMRC provides guidance and advice to the club?
"I would strongly urge you to use your influence to ensure that HMRC suspend any winding up proceedings and to agree to defer the current outstanding tax payment in order to give the club time to resolve its cash flow difficulties."
Villa have been plunged into crisis in the aftermath of the Championship play-off final defeat to Fulham on May 26.
News of the outstanding tax bill followed a club statement confirming that chief executive Keith Wyness had been suspended.
Owner Tony Xia departed for China shortly after Villa's loss at Wembley and has not returned to the UK since, exacerbating fears that the club could be placed in administration or even face going out of business.
Mr Watson said Villa's situation, as well as the financial troubles experienced by clubs such as Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth, proved that current football governance arrangements 'are simply not fit for purpose'.
"A case in point is the application of the fit and proper person test to those who take over, run or own more than 30 per cent of the shares in a football club," he added.
"The test is currently administered by the football league bodies themselves and relies far too much on the people being tested being honest with the league bodies and declaring any issues that may breach rules or cause problems.
"This is an absurd situation that clearly allows far too many people to pass the test who then turn out to be unfit to own or run football clubs.
"I therefore think it is beyond time for a full review or enquiry into both the application of the fit and proper person test to football clubs and wider football governance issues.
"Football is our national game and a vital part of many of our local communities.
"Football fans across the country deserve to know that their clubs will be run responsibly and that the authorities will protect them from being taken over by individuals who then put their entire existence in jeopardy.
"The clock is ticking for Aston Villa. I think Villa fans and football supporters across the country deserve to know what steps the Government will be taking to protect our football clubs and our national game from those who threaten its long term future."